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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Superstitions of the Woods

By John Gyles (1680?–1755)

[From Memoirs of Odd Adventures, Strange Deliverances, etc. 1736.]

THE INDIANS are very often surprised with the appearance of ghosts and demons; and sometimes encouraged by the Devil, for they go to him for success in hunting, etc. I was once hunting with Indians who were not brought over to the Romish faith, and after several days’ hunting they proposed to inquire, according to their custom, what success they should have. They accordingly prepared many hot stones, and laid them in a heap, and made a small hut covered with skins and mats, and then in the dark night two of the Powaws went into this hot-house with a large vessel of water, which at times they poured on those hot rocks, which raised a thick steam; so that a third Indian was obliged to stand without, and lift up a mat, to give it vent when they were almost suffocated. There was an old squaw who was kind to captives, and never joined with them in their powawing, to whom I manifested an earnest desire to see their management. She told me, that if they knew of my being there, they would kill me, and that when she was a girl, she had known young persons to be taken away by an hairy man; and therefore she would not advise me to go, lest the hairy man should carry me away. I told her I was not afraid of that hairy man, nor could he hurt me if she would not discover me to the Powaws. At length she promised that she would not, but charged me to be careful of myself.

I went within three or four feet of the hot-house, for it was very dark, and heard strange noises and yellings, such as I never heard before. At times the Indian who tended without would lift up the mat, and a steam rise up, which looked like fire in the dark. I lay there two or three hours, but saw none of their hairy men or demons, and when I found that they had finished their ceremony, I went to the wigwam, and told the squaw what had passed; who was glad that I returned without hurt; and never discovered what I had done. After some time, inquiry was made, what success we were like to have in our hunting? The Powaws said, that they had very likely signs of success, but no real, visible appearance as at other times. A few days after, we moved up the river, and had pretty good success.

One afternoon as I was in a canoe with one of the Powaws, the dog barked and presently a moose passed by, within a few rods of us, so that the waves which he made by wading rolled our canoe. The Indian shot at him, but the moose took very little notice of it, and went into the woods to the southward. The fellow said, “I’ll try if I can’t fetch you back, for all your haste.” The evening following, we built our two wigwams on a sandy point on the upper end of an island in the river, northwest of the place where the moose went into the woods; and the Indian powawed the greatest part of the night following, and in the morning we had the fair track of a moose, round our wigwams, though we did not see or taste of it—I am of opinion, that the Devil was permitted to humor those unhappy wretches sometimes, in some things.

An Indian being some miles from his wigwam, and the weather being warm, he supposed the hedge-hogs would come out of their den. He waylaid the mouth of it till late at night. They not coming out as usual, he was going home, but had not passed far, before he saw a light like a blaze, at a little distance before him, and darting his spear at it, it disappeared. Then on the bank of the river, he heard a loud laughter, with a noise like a rattling in a man’s throat. The Indian railed at the demon whom he supposed made the noise, calling it a rotten spirit of no substance, etc. He continued to hear the noise and see the light till he came into the wigwam, which he entered, in his hunting habit, with snow-shoes and all on, so frightened, that it was some time before he could speak to relate what had happened.

That it may further appear how much they were deluded, or under the influence of Satan, read two stories which were related and believed by the Indians.

The first of a boy who was carried away by a large bird called a Gulluoa, who buildeth her nest on a high rock or mountain. A boy was hunting with his bow and arrow at the foot of a rocky mountain, when the Gulluoa came diving through the air, grasped the boy in her talons, and though he was eight or ten years of age, she soared aloft, and laid him in her nest, a prey for her young; where the boy lay constantly on his face, but would look sometimes under his arms and saw two young ones with much fish and flesh in the nest, and the old bird constantly bringing more. So that the young ones not touching him, the old one clawed him up and set him where she found him; who returned, and related the odd event to his friends. As I have, in a canoe, passed near the mountain, the Indians have said to me, “There is the nest of the great bird that carried the boy away.” And there seemed to be a great number of sticks put together in form of a nest on the top of the mountain. At another time they said: “There is the bird, but he is now, as a boy to a giant, to what he was in former days.” The bird which they pointed to, was a large speckled bird, like an Eagle, though somewhat larger.

The other notion is, that a young Indian in his hunting was belated and lost his way, and on a sudden he was introduced to a large wigwam full of dried eels, which proved to be a beaver’s house, in which he lived till the spring of the year, when he was turned out of the house, and set upon a beaver-dam, and went home, and related the affair to his friends at large.